Blog Archive

Image of 2 students video clipDo you want to know what DU students wish more professors would do or learn about innovative teaching strategies your colleagues are using?  Check out the Teaching & Learning video page on the OTL website to view video clips of DU students talking about their experiences in the classroom, OTL keynote speakers, international student experiences, examples of DU faculty teaching practices, and much more!

Have you ever wondered how best to increase student engagement and community participation in your classroom? If so, then this video is for you! Watch as DU professors Ronald DeLyser (Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering) and Matt Gordon (Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering) discuss how they are using “Team-Based Learning” (TBL) in a first-year engineering course. TBL is an engaging classroom activity designed to build healthy team competition for student groups. It’s an activity that also encourages students to socially interact with one another, which is a desire of most first-year students. In Professors DeLyser and Gordon’s TBL activity, students use scratch cards and a series of course related questions to measure if individuals and teams can correctly identify weekly learning objectives. At the end of each week, team cards are collected and tallied so that one team can be crowned the “Top Team” of the quarter.

If you are interested in utilizing either Team-Based Learning activities or the scratch cards highlighted in this video, please contact us for more information.


Debbie Mitchell from the Department of Chemistry kicked off our first faculty showcase on September 23rd. Over twenty faculty and staff attended Debbie’s session about how she has spent the last few years converting her Chemistry course to a flipped classroom.PIcture of Debbie Mitchell and audience members

What is a “flipped” classroom?

Professor Mitchell shared the following definition of Flipped Learning:

A pedagogical approach where direct instruction moves from a group to an individual learning space. The group space is dynamic and interactive instead of a passive environment where students are lectured to for the majority of the class.

Debbie described how she first began by flipping one class per week, and found the approach so successful that she flipped her entire course this fall. She showed a few of the videos she has created for students to watch outside of class, staring from her earliest video using simple technology, and then showing more current videos that use more sophisticated software.

Debbie facilitated the session in the spirit of a flipped classroom – with participants using a worksheet to guide small and large group discussions. Participants at the session discussed how not only students but also instructors might benefit from a flipped or more active classroom environment – including better relationships with students and really getting to know their learning. Debbie and others referenced some of the research that supports a more active classroom environment.

One challenge discussed was student resistance to this teaching approach. Some suggested that you don’t necessarily want to use the term ‘flipping’ when describing your class. However, you do want to spend time explaining to students that they will be expected to view materials before coming to class and must be prepared to be actively engaged during class time.


Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics

Technology resources for flipping your class


DU instructors are using more active learning methods in class. In order to make the most out of class time, it is critical that students come to class prepared. However, this is not always the case. Although there are certainly many exceptions, studies have shown that as many as 50-70% of students do not come to class prepared.


Why don’t students come to class prepared?

Studies about this issue point to various reasons why students do not do the readings or other pre-class work, including:

  • Didn’t have time or had other priorities
  • Didn’t find the readings of interest
  • See a weak connection between doing course readings and doing well in the class
  • No justification given for why they should read, or the reading selections chosen
  • Believe important course content will be covered in class anyway
  • Do not see connection between readings and class material
  • Found the readings too hard

When asked why they do come to class prepared, students at the beginning of semester reported grade concerns and worry that the instructor will call on them in class. When asked this same question mid-term, students still reported being concerned about grades, but also did the work out of respect for the instructor. So how do we find ways to try and motivate all students?

Tips for encouraging students to come to class prepared

If you think about the main reasons why students do not believe it’s important to do pre-class work in your coruse (perhaps even ask them) you might start by adjust your methods to address those specific issues.

  • Consider the usefulness of each reading/assignment and what you hope students get out of it – Communicate your expectations with students
  • Share the value, relevance, and purpose of pre-class work
  • Align pre-class workload with larger projects and assignments (i.e., lighter readings during the week where a major paper is due)
  • Aim reading material at the “marginally-skilled” student level and/or give more time for technical readings
  • Allude to upcoming readings/assignments at the end of each class
  • Require students to integrate readings into assignments and papers
  • Integrate readings/assignments into class time (see below)

Specific teaching methods and approaches that can help

Teach students how to read (watch) academic material

  • Model strategies for reading textbooks (or articles or videos) – walk through a few sample pages and discuss merits of various strategies.
  • After first few classes, help students assess their preparation strategies through a class discussion or small group activity (Where did you do the work? When did it happen? What did you get out of it? Could different or more effective strategies be used?)
  • Use a wrapper to explore effective reading/pre-work strategies (questions about how they completed the work, compared with their performance)

Use Guides/Prompts/Reflections

  • Provide vocabulary assistance or ask students to define new/technical terms
  • Identify key questions in advance that students try to answer when watching a video or completing a reading. – What do you want students to get out of it?
  • Ask each student to write a one-paragraph blog post containing their questions, concerns, takeaways from the reading or assignment
  • Use specific prompts such as RDQ (Resonate, Disagree, Question) or RSQC2 (Recall, Summarize, Question, Connect and Comment) or a 3-2-1 assignment (list 3 important aspects from the reading, 2 areas where they had confusion, and 1 question they would like to pose to the author).
  • At the beginning of class, ask students to respond to a short written question, then use think-pair-share or small groups to formulate deeper questions for whole class discussion
  • Use a one-minute-paper, or muddiest point activity at the beginning of class to uncover comprehension levels and questions to address

Reading quizzes

  • A readiness quiz can be focused on comprehension or summary, or could also include application questions
  • Quizzes can also be the form of knowledge surveys (students estimate what they are able to do, or their confidence levels)

Consider active learning approaches such as Just in Time Teaching (JiTT)

Additional Resources

IDEA Paper: Getting students to read – Fourteen tips

Eleven Strategies for getting students to read what’s assigned

How one professor motivated students to read before a flipped class and measured their effort

Using Class Preparation Assignments

International students need to overcome many hurdles to become a student in a university in the United States. In addition to the university application process, students must successfully demonstrate English language proficiency by way of the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exams. Additionally, international students must successfully complete the visa application process and find funding for full tuition with limited financial aid resources.


Once successfully admitted to DU, international students face cultural and linguistic challenges and adjustments, adherence to immigration regulations and academic integrity requirements on top of family pressure to succeed. This overall acclimation process can take many months for the new international student to understand and accept. After international students begin their studies, they are often surprised to see how different classroom expectations and behaviors are in a U. S. university setting. Several of these differences are expectations regarding student active learning and dialogic participation, and the student/instructor relationship.

Practical Ways to Improve Communication

It is important to be aware of and make a conscious effort to effectively communicate with international students by:

  • Choosing words carefully.
  • Avoiding the use of jargon, and acronyms.
  • Avoiding culturally specific references that may not be understood.
  • Avoiding accusatory phrases such as “You did this” or “You should not have.”
  • Trying to put complex or controversial responses into context for the student.
  • Paying attention to tone as it may convey unintended sarcasm or criticism.
  • Using neutral phrases and recapping important points in the conversation to confirm understanding and agreement.
  • Being mindful of non-verbal language and making sure you’re not sending mixed messages.
  • Being aware of the spatial relationship between you and the student. Communicating at the same physical level is always more respectful.

When working with international students slow down your rate of speaking and don’t try to dominate a conversation or win a discussion. International students need extra time to process language, syntax, context, and content relative to a particular subject domain.

Offer help to the student as some international students may not tell the instructor they do not understand something because they may perceive this as being equivalent to telling the U.S. instructor that she is doing a poor job of teaching.

Academic Integrity

Guide and inform students of the appropriate rules for acknowledging sources used in their papers and presentations. This guidance needs to be clearly stated in the syllabus and emphasized in class on a regular basis.

At the heart of working with and teaching international students is respect


At the heart of working with and teaching international students is respect. Treat international students in a manner that shows them their words are important and of value to you. Listen to them carefully and consider providing context that explains the “why” as well as the “what” in order to increase understanding and acceptance.

Be mindful not to stereotype or generalize about race, nationality, religion, sex or ethnic group. Don’t single out a student to be representative of an entire nationality or as the arbiter of their nation’s policies and political practices.

Additional Resources

The content on this page was adapted from David Gowdey, DU’s Director of International Student & Scholar Services.

Are you wondering why students often don’t come to class prepared? Curious about what they are really learning, and not learning? Are you looking for some new strategies and approaches?  Join one of our Winter workshops!

Are they really learning? Methods for gathering formative feedback to improve teaching

Our tests, papers, and assignments allow us to see how well students have learned. But, there are ways to find out more about what they are learning along the way.  What did students actually learn from the last class activity or homework? Are they starting to grasp the important concepts or organize their thinking in ways consistent with the discipline?  What methods can we use that allow us insight into our students’ thinking and learning progress, without taking too much time? In this session we will explore and see examples of a variety of methods for gathering feedback on student learning.

January 26, 3:00 – 4:30 pm
OTL Conference Room, 345 Anderson Academic Commons
Facilitators: Bridget Arend and Rob Flaherty

Register here

Why don’t my students come to class prepared?

DU instructors are using more active learning methods in class. In order to make the most out of class time, it is critical that students come to class prepared. However, this is not always the case. In this session, we will discuss common reasons why students do not prepare for class, and explore a number of methods instructors can use to help motivate their students.

February 11, 2:00 – 3:30 pm
OTL Conference Room, 345 Anderson Academic Commons
Facilitator: Bridget Arend

 Register here

Yes, according to Roberta Waldbaum Ph.D., who teaches several Italian courses at DU including Tpcs: Cinematic Rome where students are exposed to Italian culture and language.

Professor Roberta Waldbaum

“In my years of language teaching, I’ve found that if the professor provides solid background information and then encourages student creativity, the results are often astonishing, demonstrating student learning outcomes in a whole new way. Now that we have access to DU CourseMedia and a large number of Italian films, students have easily incorporated them into their presentations.”
Italian Students

DU Italian students presenting their foreign cinema projects.

For this class activity, students conducted research on a specific topic in Italian literature and film, watched several classic and contemporary Italian films, analyzed the content, and then produced a group presentation in Italian. The high level of student engagement using multimedia content provided students with a rich learning experience.

Italian student presentation

Students improve their foreign language skills by researching classic Italian films using DU CourseMedia.

DU CourseMedia has several foreign films for DU instructors to use for their courses. Instructors can browse and select films for their students to watch on their own time. Contact the Office of Teaching and Learning or visit our Education Technology Knowledge Base if you would like to know more about DU CourseMedia.

One of our teaching goals at DU is to help empower students to be self-directed learners and to own their learning process. A common method used in this effort is the “wrapper.” A wrapper is a short form that students complete along with an assignment or exam that focuses on the learning process rather than on the content itself.


Marsha Lovett and her colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University are credited with creating the exam wrapper technique. Wrappers were developed in reaction to their findings that many successful high school students were arriving at college with study habits that are ineffective for higher order learning. Wrappers provide students with a chance to reflect upon, compare, and adjust their learning habits and strategies. Lovett showed that student made real and important changes to their study strategies as a result of using exam wrappers (Lovett, 2013).

Guidelines for using Wrappers

In general, wrappers ask students to think about how they prepared for the assignment/exam, what went well, what didn’t, and how they might change their study habits for the future. To use them effectively, it is suggested that the wrappers:

  • focus on the study/metacognitive skills the instructor wants to promote,
  • be repeated during a class,
  • are flexible enough for minor adaptations for particular assignments,
  • are short enough to complete relatively quickly (either inside or outside of class), and
  • are non-graded or graded based on completion only.

The process

  1. The wrapper is usually handed out to students when the exam or assignment is returned.
  2. Students are asked to fill out the form in 10 minutes or less during class, or outside of class if necessary. If possible students can discuss their forms in small groups. Students are not graded based on the content of the wrapper, but rather receive credit for completing the form.
  3. The instructor and/or TA collects the forms and reads through them, looking for general themes. Potential adjustments to the course may be made as a result of the findings.
  4. When it is time to begin preparing for the next exam/assignment, the instructor returns the forms to the students. The instructor may hold a discussion about recommended study strategies, or have the students discuss and compare their strategies in small groups.
  5. This process can be repeated during a course.

Exam wrappers are the most common form of wrappers. However this technique could be used with many types of assignments or papers.


Examples of exam wrappers

Examples of wrappers for writing or performance assignments

Lovett, M.C. (2013) Make exams worth more than the grade: Using exam wrappers to promote metacognition. In Kaplan, M., Silver, N, Lavaque-Manty, D., & Meizlish, D.’s Using reflection and metacognition to improve student learning. Stylus Publishing: Sterling, VA., pp. 18-52.

Don Bacon, Professor in the Department of Marketing, shares some of his ideas and thoughts about teaching Chinese students.

Get to know the country. I have mounted a large (3 x 4′) map of China on the wall in my office. Whenever a Chinese students visit me in my office, I ask them where they are from in China, and if I need help with the location, I ask them to point it out on the map. I then ask them a little about their hometown. I feel this helps me to connect better with the students and shows a genuine interest in them as individuals.

Cold call discussion questions but make preparation clear. My masters students are often assigned academic readings that we later discuss in class. I give students a list of discussion questions in advance for each article. Then, in class, I randomly call on students and ask them to address specific discussion questions. Having the questions in advance allows non-native speakers of English to prepare answers and get into the conversation somewhat. The discussion questions also help me to focus on what I believe are key learnings in the articles.

Use student information cards. I ask all students to fill out a 3 x 5 card containing contact information and a little background on themselves. I then tape on their pictures which I download from Web Central. This deck is handy to shuffle through to get to know student names. I also use this deck, shuffled, to randomly draw on names of students to call on in class.

Use a seating chart to learn names. For each of my classes, I use PowerPoint to make a drawing of the layout of the room, including chairs and tables. I then bring a printed copy of this graphic to each class, and ask students to sign their names over the chair that they are sitting in. The sign-in is a handy device for recording participation scores and it helps immensely to learn student names. (It is common for me to have classes with 30 or more students and half of them may be Chinese.)

Individually hand back assignments to learn names. When returning assignments, I sort the assignments by the order students typically sit in as shown on my seating charts. Then, I can quickly hand back the assignments to each student. In this process, I get one more repetition of learning the students’ names.

Mix activity groups. When conducting group activities in class, I have had some success with requiring that each group contain at least one Chinese student and one American student. Without this requirement, students may not mix as much as I would like them too. This diversity requirement may seem a little awkward, but everyone seems to understand the benefits of mixing with other and the (otherwise) social awkwardness of approaching strangers.

Add diversity to exercise materials. In any exercises and written examples that I may use in class, I try to mix in examples with Chinese names and Chinese settings. For example, instead of “Suppose Jane started a business with a bank loan of $20,000…”, I start with “Suppose Yun started a business with money she borrowed from her father…”

The OTL recently sponsored a workshop about Facilitating Student Groups to a packed room of faculty members.

Roberto Corrada has used groups in his law classes for 19 years and speaks about this topic nationally. He shared strategies and techniques for effectively facilitating student groups. He stressed the importance of including all five elements of Johnson and Johnson’s cooperative learning conditions in order to facilitate successful student groups:

  • Positive interdependence (students believe they sink or swim together)
  • Face-to-face promotive interaction (students encourage each other to complete tasks and achieve)
  • Individual accountability (individual performance is assessed and students are held accountable)
  • Interpersonal and small-group skills (students get to know each other, communicate well, resolve conflicts)
  • Group processing (reflection on the functioning of the group)

Roberto shared a course-long group project he uses in a law class where student pretend that Jurassic Park did happen, and they have to create an administrative law to regulate dinosaur DNA. Within the project the elements of successful cooperative learning are implemented. For example he uses a mix of individual and group grades to ensure interdependence but also personal accountability.

With his prior traditional teaching approach students did learn the material, but it was possible for them to get through the entire class without seeing a complete regulatory statute. They only got a sense of the bits and pieces of administrative law. By focusing on group projects and the problem-solving and interpersonal skills that are so much a part of being a lawyer, Roberto’s students now “get the forest and the trees.”

Nancy Sasaki shared her experiences administering student group exams in large biology classes. This approach can be new and intimidating to students so they practice through “cheat quizzes” where students are directed to consult with two other students during the quiz. Students are graded not only on the correct answer, but also on their explanations of why one answer is right and why the others are wrong. Nancy explicitly surveys the students about the exams and asks them questions about this approach so they realize how the groups exams are positively influencing their learning.

Cindi Fukami also shared her advice and experiences using groups in her business classes. She ended the session with a call to explore if “we frame our projects from a philosophy of expecting the best or expecting the worst from students? And how does that influence how students respond?”

Other advice given at this session:

  • You must dedicate at least some in-class time to student groups to show it’s importance.
  • Not all courses or assignments are good for student groups, the activity needs to be one where students can’t just divide and conquer the material, but need to rely on each other.
  • Students like choosing teams, but the learning is usually better if the teams are selectively assigned to maximize diversity among the areas that are important to the project.

You can contact any of the presenters to discuss their approaches or student group facilitation issues. Or visit our webpage about student groups and teams.


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